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AHL grads win Stanley Cup with Chicago

The AHL’s Rockford IceHogs and Norfolk Admirals will be extremely well-represented on the Stanley Cup this year after the Chicago Blackhawks ended a 49-year championship drought with a 4-3 overtime win at Philadelphia on Wednesday to close the NHL’s title series.

Twenty-one of the 24 Blackhawks players to appear in a playoff contest are graduates of the American Hockey League, 13 of which honed their skills in the Blackhawks’ AHL system as a member of the Norfolk Admirals – Chicago’s top affiliate from 2000-07 – or Rockford IceHogs (2007-present).

That group includes goaltender Antti Niemi, who spent the entire 2008-09 season in Rockford before earning full-time duty with the big club this year and posting a 16-6 record (2.63, .910) with two shutouts in 22 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith and 2007 AHL All-Star Dustin Byfuglien also developed in the ‘Hawks’ AHL system, as did Dave Bolland, Nick Boynton, Kris Versteeg, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Troy Brouwer (pictured at right), Bryan Bickell, Adam Burish, Jordan Hendry, and Colin Fraser.

Mike Haviland, the AHL’s coach of the year in 2007, tutored many of those players as bench boss in Norfolk and Rockford from 2005-08 before he was promoted to an assistant coach position with the Blackhawks.

Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks’ third-leading scorer this postseason with 22 points (11-11-22) in 22 games, hoisted the Stanley Cup on Wednesday in the same Wachovia Center where, five years earlier, he celebrated a Calder Cup championship as a member of the 2005 Philadelphia Phantoms, a squad which also included current Blackhawks teammate Ben Eager.

Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville played 148 career AHL games before beginning his head-coaching career behind the bench of the AHL’s Springfield Indians in 1993-94; assistant coach John Torchetti served as the inaugural head coach of the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage in 2002-03; and assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff earned two Calder Cup titles (2002, 2008) as general manager of the Chicago Wolves.

This is the fourth time that the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup, and the first time since the spring of 1961.